Saturday, April 24, 2010

Newell on Romans 6

Romans 6 is an interesting chapter in what is probably the most theological book in the Bible. It's the chapter that deals with the believer's death with Christ. Over the past fifteen or so years, I've glanced at various commentaries and books to see how they deal with Romans 6. There seem to be a few main schools of thought on the chapter, and each has some good points. But eventually each one ends up contradicting Scripture on some point, big or small.

So when I read Newell's commentary on Romans 6 in Romans Verse-by-verse, I was overjoyed. He does an excellent job of explicating the chapter. In my opinion, he goes right through the passage, avoiding the traps that we all seem to fall into.

Most importantly, he correctly differentiates between the old man and the flesh:
The word our indicates that what is said, is said of and to all those who are in Christ. The expression “our old man,” of course is a federal one, as also is “the new man.” The “old man,” therefore, is not Adam personally, any more than the “new man” is Christ personally. Also, we must not confuse the “old man” with “the flesh.”

This is a point of tremendous importance, it lies at the root of a lot of misunderstanding of this passage. He goes on to list four differences between the old man and the flesh. I was pleased to see his mention of Galatians 5: there is a crucifixion of the flesh, but it's taught in very different terms than the crucifixion of the old man.

Not to get on one of my hobby horses, but this distinction is very carefully maintained in Scripture. If we're not careful to maintain it ourselves, we end up in a bad spot. Particularly in Romans, the old man isn't mentioned after chapter 6, the flesh isn't mentioned until chapter 7. They're quite distinct. I think it's obvious in Romans 6 that the old man is something we were while the flesh is something we have.

The problem with equating them is that we have to choose between eradicationism (i.e. the believer is free not only from sin's guilt and sin's power, but also from sin's presence) and the strict "two-naturism" (really positionalism) more common among "brethren" and mainstream evangelicals, where the old man is "kinda-sorta-but-not-really" dealt with. The former leads into real trouble once we get into Romans 7 and Galatians 5, the latter leads to trying to "die to self". There's nothing good down that path.

So I was delighted that Newell is careful with that distinction. Sadly, even Darby seemed to get those mixed up. F. W. Grant seems to have done a better job of maintaining the Scriptural distinction.

I think Newell gets the body of sin right too. I've heard all sorts of explanations where the body of sin is just the sum total of sin. Even Darby takes that interpretation. It seems obvious to me that the body of sin is the unredeemed body. We are justified, we are crucified with Christ, we are to walk in newness of life; but our bodies are yet unredeemed. When the Lord Jesus comes to get us, we will be changed. That is the "redemption of the body" in Romans 8. In fact, that is one of the main arguments of Romans 8.

So I've been delighted to read his comments on Romans 6. I'd started to wonder whether I was totally in left field... it seems no matter whose comments I read on that chapter, I kept shaking my head. And my understanding of the chapter has really increased with Newell's help.

Because I tend to see the chapter ontologically instead of positionally, I needed to be reminded that there is a definite positional aspect to it. The old man really is a federal thing. I've been far too personal in my understanding of that term. It's as a positional thing that it's mentioned in Ephesians 4. I'd really lost sight of that.

So I'm as enthusiastic as ever I was in endorsing Newell's book on Romans. And I'm kicking myself again for letting it sit on my bookshelf for twelve years. Imagine such an excellent book gathering dust for all that time...

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